jamie goode's wine blog: April 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007

Real wine tasting

A thrilling tasting today, held by Les Caves de Pyrene at the Delfina Gallery near Bermondsey Street. The theme of the tasting was 'real wine', and these are the sorts of wines that make you realise what it was that made you excited about wine in the first place. No, not absurd Californian Cabernets with 99900 points and a price tag to make you weep, containg long-hang-time dead, saggy fruit tricked up by new oak, and delivered in a heavy bottle with a big punt. These were wines with a sense of place, honestly made and sensibly priced, presented by people with calluses on their hands.

Pictured is Olivier Pithon from the eponymously named Roussillon domaine, which he began in 2001. Other standouts include the fantastic wines of Domaine Gramenon, Domaine des Roches Neuves from Samur, Emanuelle Houillon's Arbois wines, Domaine Ganevat from the Jura, Arrtxea's Irouleguys, Clos du Gravillas from the Languedoc, and this still leaves a load more I have to go back for tomorrow.

The wines were all showing pretty well today. Is that because of the atmospheric conditions? Or because it's a root day (no, I mean in the biodynamic sense, not the Australian one...)? Doug Wregg told me that all the supermarkets hold their tastings on root days (or shoot days...I may have got this mixed up) because although hardly any of them would contemplate stocking a biodynamic wine, they recognize that wines taste better on these days.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bordeaux and Port

Two very nice (but affordable) wines to report on tonight. The first is a well proportioned, balanced Claret; the second, an overperforming LBV Port.

Chateau Senejac 2004 Cru Bourgeois, Haut Medoc, Bordeaux
Lovely nose shows some blackcurrant fruit but it's quite restrained, and not too fruity, with a balanced, complex earthy, gravelly, cigar box sort of character. Very smooth and elegant. The palate is earthy and spicy with good density of fruit. Midweight with some nice tannin and really good balance. A well proportioned sort of wine where nothing sticks out too much, and at this price a real bargain for Bordeaux. This sort of wine is what Bordeaux is all about. Very good+ 89/100 (£9.25 Waitrose)

Niepoort LBV 2001 Douro, Portugal
This is a late-bottled vintage Port that would put some vintage wines to shame. On the nose there's some spicy, herby complexity, with some lifted tar notes and a bit of perfume. The palate has a pronounced spicy tannic structure underpinning the sweet fruit. Finishes drier and more savoury than you'd expect. Plenty of personality here, and a persistent structure. Very good/excellent 90/100 (£13 Butlers Wine Cellar, Cambridge Wine Company, Fareham Wine Cellar, Fortnum & Mason, Bentleys Wine and others)

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Sulfuring my vines

Saturday and Sunday have been two glorious days. Comfortable temperatures in the early 20s and blue skies. Plants bursting with new life and blossom everywhere. I visited my allotment to see how the vines, which I'd pruned shortly before leaving on my trip, were progressing.

The answer is, very well indeed. They are about three weeks ahead of schedule. There's strong, even shoot growth and everything looks very healthy. The flower clusters (plenty of them) are developing, to the extent that flowering will probably occur in a couple of weeks, which is absurdly early.

Early flowering isn't a problem, as long as it occurs during a settled period of weather. And early growth is only problematic if there's frost - and so far we've been lucky. In fact, this early surge could be very good news: if everything is pulled forwards a month then harvest will be in September rather than October, lessening the prospect of rubbish weather during picking.

I gave all the vines a good sulfuring. My next task will be deciding how to train them: at the moment they're on a single wire, which isn't ideal for the climate here.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Educational reading

Just thought I'd point out some articles I've dug up recently in my web travels.

Wines and Vines has a nice comparative tasting of wines made with oak chips and those without, looking at the influence of oak alternatives on the final wines. First time I've seen this. There's also an earlier article in the same mag on this subject.

Sticking with Wines and Vines, there's a nice article on minerality in wine, a topic I'm really interested in. The author makes a reference to a chapter in my Wine Science book. Glad someone has read it.

The World of Fine Wine has placed a couple of my articles online as pdfs, free of charge. Here's one on the premature oxidation of white Burgundy crisis and another on grafted versus ungrafted vines.

On the same site there's a lengthy but gripping (and surprisingly high level) discussion on biodynamics. Phew!

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Douro's best value?

As regular readers know, I'm a great fan of the new wave of table wines from the Douro. Thrilled by them, actually. They ain't cheap, though (not that they should be - it costs lots of money to make wines in such challenging terroirs), so it's nice to be able to find one that is really good as well as being quite affordable. For me, this is probably the best value Douro wine at the moment - other possible contenders are the Vale de Clara from La Rosa and the Prazo de Roriz, but this is a bit of a step up from these.

Churchill Estates Douro 2004 Portugal
I like this wine a good deal: it tastes very much of the Douro and it's affordable, balanced and very drinkable. Nicely perfumed nose of dark spicy black cherry fruit with a savoury, dusty edge. The palate shows pure dark fruits with some spicy definition and a really attractive savouriness. Despite the relatively high alcohol (14.5%) this isn't a sweet, overripe style, but instead shows great balance and quite a bit of class. Very impressive. Very good/excellent 91/100 (£7.99 Majestic, currently on offer at £6.39 if you buy two)


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Back to London after what seems a very long time away. It’s been a great trip. The family holiday worked better than I thought it might: you never quite know how good a destination is going to be until you get there, I guess. Margaret River was fantastic: good wine, good food (in places) and all in proximity to some stunning beaches. If it were a couple of hours nearer Perth, it would be perfect – and probably totally overrun with tourists.

The third segment, Exmouth, was quite different, but utterly magical. Yes, the town itself is …how can I put this dimplomatically…a bit frontier-like. But it’s OK. What thrills is the natural setting, and the stunning Ningaloo Reef, in its unspoilt glory. Turquoise Bay is perhaps the best beach I’ve experienced.

And Singapore, segments one and four, is a place I enjoy. I’ve been here quite a bit over the last few years, and although it’s not somewhere I’d travel to without an ulterior motive – it’s not really a holiday destination in its own right – it has got a lot going for it. Yesterday I had a free afternoon and spent it swimming and then wandering through the botanic gardens (pictured). By this time there was a humid, broody presence in the air, with distant thunderstorms that later became much less distant, soaking us on our way out to dinner. We ate at Ah Hoi's in the Traders Hotel, near Orchard Road, which impressed for its nicely presented food and rather causal setting.

Now feeling fresher than I should, approaching lunchtime after getting in at six this morning.

Aside: what is it with the French and lunchtime? Just phoned Yvon Mau (a big, commercial producer in Bordeaux) for a quote, only to be greeted with some canned music and an announcement that they are closed for two hours, from 12-2 pm each day, so call back later, punk! [Well, I added the last bit]. How do these guys do business?

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chinese overseas

Last night's conference dinner was held in the striking setting of the Hua Song museum, which has as its theme the story of the Chinese overseas. The museum is new - it was opened in 2006 -and although it isn't that big, some of the stories it tells are quite moving. The Chinese have had quite a tough time on their travels over the last few centuries.

The food was Chinese, the wine Chilean. Ch Los Boldos Merlot, plus a sister white whose varietal composition I missed. The red was quite nice: it didn't taste too Chilean. Ripe but restrained and not very green at all.

After two days of heavy rain, including some amazing downpours, it has brightened up. That's convenient, because I have a free afternoon before I head back to London late tonight.

One more wine note: on Monday evening I dined with a couple of colleagues in the Four Seasons, and we had a really nice Domaine Chandon Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2004. Food friendly, quite elegant, ripe but restrained (that word again...), and affordable - this was near the very bottom of the wine list.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Wine, hawker food and avian flu

Last night I met up with chums again for a rather unusual wine dinner. On a rather steamy Singapore evening we headed off to the bustling Adam Road hawker centre with bottles, ice bucket and glasses. It made for a strange sight, I'm sure. This particular hawker centre consists of a large circular seating area, fringed at its perimeter by a profusion of small food stalls. You grab some food, grab a seat and eat.

We drank an expressive Schloss Johannisberg Riesling, a soft, almost ethereal German Gerwurztraminer, and bold, pithy Domane Wachau Riesling Smaragd and a Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot (which I was rather proud to have spotted as a Margaret River Cabernet blind).

Today I'm in a conference on 'Novel and re-emerging respiratory viral diseases at the beginning of the 21st century'. That's bird flu and SARS among others. 25 of the world's leading experts in the field are gathered from the four corners of the globe, half the time is alloted for discussion, and then I go away with the tapes and produce a book from it. Usually, by the time I've finished the book, I have some understanding of what was going on during the meeting itself. I do eight of these books a year; it's my other life - what I do when I'm not writing about wine. However, after 15 years of learning a great deal on a range of biomedical topics, plus a smidgeon of psychology, some agriculture and even a bit of environmental statistics, it looks like my editing days may be drawing to an end, later this year. Now when I can concentrate all my energies on wine, I'd like to think I could achieve something.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lunch leads to dinner

Had a great wine lunch/dinner yesterday in Sinagpore. It was with long-time wine buddies Yixin and Hsien Min and a couple of others. We began at 1pm, and finished at 8pm, taking in both the lunch and dinner sittings at a Chinese restaurant just off Orchard Road.

11 bottles were consumed in the end, beginning with the wines we bought and finishing with a raid on the well-priced wine list.

Leroy Bourgogne 1997 was light, crisp, mineralic and showing very nicely indeed.

Knoll Ried Kellerberg Riesling Smaragd 2003 Wachau, Austria showed lovely fruit with some nice mineralic acidity.

Zind Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim Riesling 1998 Alsace was quite rich and evolved with lots of quite complex crystalline fruits and some lemony freshness.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling 2005 Margaret River was a bit reduced and tasted like many Australian Rieslings taste.

Ch Picque Caillou 2001 Pessac Leognan was a lighter claret that was drinking nicely.

Stonecroft Serine Syrah 2004 Hawkes Bay was really expressive, bright and peppery: a lovely NZ red.

Vigna Maggio Chiantic Classico Castello di Mona Lisa 1997 was a big Italian red with some earthy evolution.

Ch de la Gimmoniere 2003 Coteaux du Layon was a nice, quite pure, fruit driven sweet wine.

Elio Altare Barolo La Morra 2000 was a deliciously expressive, bright, fruity, modern Barolo but still has plenty of earthy, spicy savouriness. Lovely.

Ch Rausan Segla 1978 Margaux was a beautifully evolved, quite fresh claret that drank well.

Guigal La Landonne Cote Rotie 1994 was drinking nicely too: the oak has receded a bit to reveal a savoury, bacon-fat and spice Syrah that has a few years ahead of it but is just entering its drinking window, I'd reckon.

From the restaurant it was off to a bar where a Chinese pop group were playing. I'm feeling a little slow today.


Thursday, April 19, 2007


So here we are in Perth. We've got a room all together in the Mercure right in the centre, and as I type Fiona and I have just dined on Pad Thai and Singapore Noodles from a takeaway, washed down with the crisp, precise Evans and Tate Classic White 2006 Margaret River and Madfish Premium Red 2004, which is spicy with nice blackcurranty definition and an almost European savouriness. The boys have also dined (I won't say what their takeaway was), and are watching Charlotte's Web. I finally have my laptop connected for the first time in a week.

Tomorrow we have half a day to explore Perth before heading back to Singapore. Then Fiona has the fun task of returning home with the boys, while I stay on to edit a conference on bird flu. I've enjoyed my time in Australia. I could live here, you know. It would be great to make ageworthy, more European styled wines in Australia, which I think has some fantastic terroirs. I reckon a Margaret River Malbec would be a good place to start.


Fizz on the beach

Today we leave for Perth. On our last beach/reef day we celebrated by lunching with some Seaview Brut de Brut on the sand. It tasted great, but just about anything would in such a setting.

I guess six days is long enough here, although I wouldn't mind staying another week. I've exhausted the dining and wine options in this town: there's whaler's (the best), a Pizza joint and a Chinese, plus an unappealing restaurant at one of the resorts. The Liqour stores (supermarkets don't stock booze) have a very small range: last night we had a Lindemans Riesling that was OK and a Blue Pyrenees Shiraz that was also OK. Commercial Aussie wine is consistent n'all, but it loses its allure pretty quickly if that's all there is to choose from.

We'll have about half a day to explore Perth before setting off for the homeward leg.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Turtles and dolphins

Four days of perfectly blue skies, burning sun and a beautiful underwater world, and at last I feel I've adjusted to the heat and pace of life up here in Exmouth.

Yesterday we had a couple of lovely surprises. The first was a chance to swim with a turtle. Fiona spotted him first, and we spent a priveliged fifteen minutes following him as he (or she? I'm not good at sexing these things, although I'm told it is easy) happily munched on green stuff and then came up for air. The second was being visited in the shallows by a couple of dolphins.

With dinner, a nice fresh Hardys Sir James fizz, at Whalers, which is the best restaurant in town. Today is our last full day here.
I'll report in detail when we hit Singapore.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Underwater world

For the last few days we've been in Exmouth, 1300 km north of Perth. It's pretty remote up here: basically, it's where the outback meets the sea. The town is tiny and functional; the weather mid-30s centigrade, cloudless blue skies and relentless sun. The big attraction here is underwater - the Ningaloo reef, part of the Cape Range National Park.

So we get up, have a quick breakfast and drive for half an hour around the cape to Turquoise Bay, one of the many pristine beaches here. Despite the fact that it's a peak time, there aren't many people around. Just a few metres off the beach the reef begins. Easy snorkelling even for the kids. The underwater world that is revealed is simply stunning. Fish of all shapes, sizes and colours; rays; starfish; sea slugs; octopus. We'll be doing the same again today. Pictured are a mummy emu and five babys walking next to the road.

Food and drink: not much to report on. Margaret River SBS (Sauvignon Blanc Semillon) is perfect with freshly caught local fish. I also had an interesting pair of reds from Hardys: NPA, which stands for no preservatives added. Who'd have thought it? A big Aussie wine company making vins sans soufre. I need to find out more about this.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Cullen tasting

Had a good tasting and lunch with Vanya Cullen. She's gone biodynamic, which is pretty rare still in Australia, even though in Europe there are perhaps 200 estates certified (that's just a guess...) and many more who do bits and pieces of biodynamics, or are in conversion. Have the wines improved as a result? Vanya thinks so. I can't comment, because I've never tasted more than a handful of older wines. The current releases are fantastic, though: wines with real interest and complexity, and which are potentially long lived.

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Margaret River

Just checking in from Perth airport, en route to Exmouth. We've had a wonderful few days in the Margaret River region - I squeezed in two full days of winery visits, all of which proved very successful. I can't remember a trip where I had such a high strike rate of exceptional visits, including Leeuwin, Moss Wood, Cullens, McHenry Hohnen, Cape Mentelle, Xanadu, Howard Park, Fermoy (hope I haven't left any out).
The great thing about Margaret River is that it's just 10 minutes from fantastic beaches, and you don't have to compromise on the wine at all: I've tasted some really world class wines here. More later. For now, a picture of one of the Moss Wood vineyards. What can you tell me about this picture?

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Monday, April 09, 2007

To Australia...

Quick check-in from Changi airport after a surprisingly wine-free sojourn in Singapore. Just one glass consumed - Domaine Chandon NV fizz with dinner on Saturday. Otherwise it's been the very average Tiger beer that I've been washing my food down with (that sounds horrible, doesn't it?).

It's been a fun few days in Singapore. We went to the zoo yesterday, followed by dinner in little India, a part of Singapore remarkable for its lack of women. There were hoards of people around, but I spotted just one female.

Now it's off to Margaret River, where I intend to make up for my wine-free state. Two days of winery visits beckon.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

A comma

Checking in from Singapore. I've mentioned before that I see travels as a sort of useful punctuation mark in my life - you get away from the daily routines and familiar places, and gain a useful change of perspective.

It's been a fairly painless transition: we arrived yesterday afternoon, took a cab to our hotel, had a swim, went out for a wander in neighbouring Fort Canning Park, and then went out for dinner in Chinatown.

The kids slept well, and this morning we've just had breakfast and are off to Orchard Road an the botanic gardens.

Singapore Airlines were once again very good, but you really need to be lucky with your fellow passengers in order to have a good flight: we did well in that we didn't have any persistent recliners in front of us, but we did have a couple of antisocial light users during the middle of the night. Eldest son refused to sleep for the entire flight. That's all for now.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Technology and wine

Did a piece for yesterday's Independent on how technology is changing the face of winemaking. It's not illustrated in the web version, but it included a nice picture of a tank with staves bolted into it. There was also a small picture (one of mine) of Mario Andrade of the Falua winery in the Ribatejo holding a used barrel stave that had been in a tank. They didn't use the picture I have them of Mario's reverse osmosis machine.

Last night was spent at my parents' place in Lidgate, Suffolk. This is where RTL will be spending her holidays. I went out a few times with her during the evening: out in the country the stars are amazingly bright. It's a night sky you don't see in light-polluted London. It was also amazingly quiet, with no residual traffic noise. Utterly beautiful.

Watched the cricket: a fascinating tense battle between England and Sri Lanka that went down to the last ball. Gripping stuff. Very disappointed to see Fernando stop on the last ball - I don't think that's in the spirit of the game at all, even though it is lawful. There's a difference (mostly forgotten in today's society) between what is legal and what is moral.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Travels ahead

Just trying to tie up some loose ends before embarking on a trip to Singapore (above), Western Australia and then Singapore again. The first segment will be a family holiday, with a few days of serious wine work in Margaret River the sole business angle (but, if truth be known, I find my job as relaxing as a holiday when it comes to visiting wine regions).

I'm looking forward to introducing my family to Singapore, a place I enjoy visiting - I've been three times in the last three years. It's just such an easy place to hang out. On returning to Singapore at the end of the Western Australia leg, I'll without the family - this time I'll be wearing my science editor hat, attending a really interesting conference on SARS and avian flu, from which I'll be producing a book.

While I'm travelling over the next couple of weeks the blog will be maintained, but there may be periods of radio silence - it all depends on the internet access and time I have available. One of the great joys of travelling is the freedom from the daily routine, and the different perspective that this often brings.

As an aside: if anyone reading is in Singapore and fancies some sort of mini-wine-nut dinner, I'm currently free on 21,22 and 23 April in the evenings. It's always nice to meet new people.

As another aside, the hotel I'm staying in (the Orchard Parade) has the indescribable evil of a Manchester United-themed bar. As a City fan, I find this excruciating.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Champagne and sparkling wine

Continuing my semi-obsession with bubbles at the moment, I opened two fizzes side-by-side this evening. It felt a little decadent, because like it or not it is hard to get away from the image of bubbly wine and celebration, celebrity and conspicuous consumption. Two very different bottles, though, and this wasn't intended to be a straight shootout.

First: Champagne Mumm de Cramant NV Grand Cru Brut Chardonnay. There's a bright, fresh, perfumed, almost salty quality to the nose. It's tight, savoury and shows lemony freshness alongside some denser herby, toasty notes. The palate is bright, fresh and savoury with complex toasty, honeyed, herby depth. There's precision here, as you'd expect from a Blanc de Blancs, but there's also some midpalate depth and savoury weight. All in, it's a really lovely fizz. Bottled with 8 g/l dosage and a lower pressure (4.5 atmospheres versus the usual 6, which makes it less fizzy). Very good/excellent 93/100

Second: Deakin Estate Brut NV, Australia. Sealed with a crown cap, this is an attractively packaged fizz showing bright, delicate lemony fruit and nice acidity. A very fresh, almost transparent style of sparkling wine. It's not the most complex example of its genre, but at this price it's a great value all-purpose fizz. Very good 84/100 (£6.99 Oddbins, 6 for the price of 5)

Aside: crown caps are great for sparkling wines, but they aren't hermetic seals. The seal between the rim of the bottle and the cap is what determines the oxygen transmission properties, and this case it is some sort of plastic material, which allows oxygen diffusion. So for this sort of fizz it's fine; I'd be cautious about cellaring crown capped bottles for any length of time, though.

In the Mumm picture the corner is turned down: apparently, in days gone by the wine was delivered unlabelled, and the turned-down corner of the business card indicated personal delivery. Although made since 1882, this cuvee wasn't released commercially until 1960.

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Hugh on the Stormhoek experience

'A-list' blogger Hugh MacLeod has this to say about his experience with Stormhoek, the South African wine brand that has made innovative use of the hi-tech blogging community in promoting its wines. There are some good observations, including the following.
"Most wine is bought by ordinary folk. Most of them are women. Most choose the wine because they like the label. Most couldn't give a hoot about 'terroir' or country of origin. Most won't spend more than $10. And that, my friends, is the market I am in. Sure, the male-dominated, over-fifty-dollar 'snob' market might be a good wee business to be in for some folk, but be warned: it's a surprisingly tiny niche."

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Glenfiddich shortlist

The Glenfiddich shortlist for 2007 is out!


A Tale Of 12 Kitchens - Jake Tilson (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Made In Italy Food & Stories - Giorgio Locatelli (Fourth Estate London)
Bread Matters - Andrew Whitley (Fourth Estate London)
Relish - Ruth Cowen (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Wine Behind The Label - Philip Williamson & David Moore (Williamson Moore Publishing Limited)
Bordeaux - Oz Clarke (Little, Brown Book Group and Websters International Publishers Limited)
Wine Atlas Of Australia - James Halliday (Mitchell Beazley)
Bordeaux – Stephen Brook (Mitchell Beazley)

Andrew Purvis – Observer Food Monthly
Christopher Hirst – The Independent
Clarissa Hyman – Financial Times

Elisabeth Luard – The Oldie
Mark Hix – The Independent Magazine
Angela Nilsen – BBC Good Food Magazine

Roger Protz – What’s Brewing / Beers Of The World
Alastair Gilmour – The Journal, Newcastle / E-Magazine (Eastern Airways)
Simon Difford – diffordsguide to Cocktails #5.4 Liquor & City Drinking

Jane Anson – Wine& Spirit / Business Destinations (American Express)
Jamie Goode – World of Fine Wine / Harpers
Margaret Rand – Decanter

Terry Durack – The Independent on Sunday: Review
Tracey MacLeod – The Independent Magazine
Joanna Blythman – Sunday Herald

Alastair Gilmour – The Journal, Newcastle
Mark Taylor – Bristol Evening Post / West Country Life (Western Daily Press)
Andrew Hobbs – Pure Taste, bi-annual in Associate North West Fine Foods (covers Cheshire, Lancashire and the Lake District)

Rick Stein and the Japanese Ambassador – BBC2
River Cottage – Channel 4
Heston Blumenthal: In Search of Perfection: Fish & Chips – BBC2
Hannah Glasse The First Domestic Goddess – BBC 2

The Food Programme: The Jungle – BBC R4
The Coppy Perry Pear Tree – BBC Birmingham
The Food Programme: Food & Memory – BBC 4
The Food Programme: IRAN – BBC R4

David Cicconi – Conde Nast Traveller
Jonathan Lovekin - FeastsRoberto Frankenberg – Conde Nast Traveller

The 2007 panel of judges comprises Chez Bruce’s Bruce Poole, food writer Diana Henry, restaurant magazine editor Joe Warwick, food and drink writer Richard Ehrlich and leading wine experts Andrew Jefford and Sarah Jane Evans MW.

Results out on May 14th at a glitzy party somewhere in London.


Monday, April 02, 2007

The benefits of age

Another glorious spring day in London, with temperatures hitting 18 centigrade (hotter than Jerez and Corfu, for example). But given the unpredictability of the weather these days, it could be snowing later in the week! Pictured is Regent's Park about an hour ago.

Forgot to mention some nice wines had over the weekend, at a lovely dinner party hosted by a rather good chef. The deal was that I should bring the wine. With goose foie gras we had Aigle Blanc Vouvray Moelleux 1990 - I was worried this wouldn't be sweet enough, but it worked very well. With asparagus and truffle cooked in butter we had Louis Jadot Meursault 2003: the fatness and richness of this wine worked well, with what is traditionally a difficult pairing. With a veal main course it was the turn of a 1989 Penfolds St Henri. This was the first vintage that St Henri was labelled 'Shiraz Cabernet' rather than 'Claret', and it was drinking perfectly. Age has turned this wine into something elegant, dark and thought-provoking.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

A time to prune

With the exception of a cold blip a couple of weeks ago, it has been a warm, bright spring so far, after the wettest winter I can remember. And it was another beautiful spring day today. There's something special about the gently warming spring sun, and the freshness in the air that frequently accompanies it at this time of year.

The 60 vines on my allotment were in need of a haircut - this season's pruning is long overdue. I've sort of deliberately left it late, because late pruning can help avoid frost damage by retarding budburst of the bits you want to keep. And the vines are about 20 days advanced this year, so the risk of frost damage is very high. But I also found it hard to schedule in, even though spending time messing with vines is a source of great fun to me.

So this morning I spent cutting back last years growth, to leave just a couple of buds on each spur, and in some cases just a couple of canes with a replacement spur on the vines that I'm can pruning. It all feels rather brutal, but it's much needed: tough love for vines.

The afternoon was spent in casualty at West Middlesex hospital because Fiona did something nasty to one of the muscles in her rib area. She was in a lot of pain. An X-ray confirmed it wasn't a pneumothorax, but they couldn't do anything else for her. No painkillers, even. And that was after a 2.5 hour wait. The kids were kindly looked after by some friends. RTL, too - and our friends have chickens, which were out when they let RTL into the garden. She got a mouthful of feathers from one of the chickens, but fortunately that was all.

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